The Pivot Conference, to be held October 15-16, 2012 is shaping up in a very interesting way. The focus is to move from “social brands to social business” – which I find exciting – but it also makes me wonder. Do we really feel that we are in a world of social brands as yet? And I am also wondering, can you have a social brand without first becoming a social business? What comes first, chicken or egg?

In the lead up to the Pivot Conference, a research report has been released: The State of Social Marketing 2011-12. You have to register for it, but it is a great summary and well worth it.

Throughout the report, there is a consistent theme – the gap between the business and your customers is wider than you think. My experience bears this out and is reinforced by IBM’s recent Social CRM report (2011). The gap, which IBM terms “the perception gap” is a real and persistent challenge for organisations and needs to be seriously addressed in the coming months.

Take a look, for example, at the business focus for social media for 2012. The State of Social Marketing report indicates that sales, consumer engagement and lead generation are at the top three priorities.

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Yet how many businesses have closed the perception gap? How many can deliver on their customer’s expectations – or worse – how many have even begun engaging with their customers about these expectations? The report states that only 34.8% have asked their customers. That’s not a gap. It’s a gulf.

Social Business Comes First

At the recent Social Media Plus conference, I described the challenge that we are facing as being similar to the difference between playing 80s arcade game Space Invaders and Angry Birds. On the business side, we are happily engaged with the invading hoardes – identifying the opportunity then firing off a response. The problem is, is that the game itself has changed. We may be playing Space Invaders – but our customers are playing Angry Birds. It is a profound mismatch.

The idea of a “social brand” sounds good – and there are plenty of examples of successful social marketing now available. But my view is that we have the cart before the horse. Before we can truly claim to have a social brand, we need to engage in the hard work of transforming our business processes and practices first.

We need to become social businesses first – and the social marketing will naturally follow.